Bittersweet play tells the story of care leavers' resilience
On Friday I sat among a sell-out audience trying not to cry.
A play that gained national recognition with its first run in 2017 proved to be just as relevant one year on.
Leaving, produced by Newcastle theatre company Curious Monkey in association with Northern Stage, tells the real stories of care leavers - and particularly their experiences of the pivotal moment they exit the system at the age of 18.
Testing the boundaries of verbatim theatre, Leaving was raw and wholly authentic in its approach.
It began with soundbites of conversations with care leavers - stories that would go on to enrich the narrative. Through sheer versatility, the small cast was able to convey a vast collection of stories not only with sensitivity, but (crucially) with humour.
There was Keira, the star of the show, with her no-holds-barred accounts of life in and out of care.
Then there were Jasmine, the happy-go-lucky type who showed real resilience in the face of adversity, and the lad who, despite having a heart attack at 24, was all jokes and laughter.
Add various contributions from service managers, social workers and even MPs and you ended up with a loose narrative, albeit cleverly woven together.
Writer Paddy Campbell was careful not to focus too much on the negative experience of leaving care, instead offering a well-rounded view of the system.
"It was vitally important for me to portray a true representation of how the system worked," Campbell said.
"I worked in care for eight years and it was frustrating watching what happened to the kids when they had to leave, but I wanted to get across their resilience and the humour they used to deal with everything."
This translated into a narrative that had me grinning one second and holding back the tears the next.
One of the most harrowing stories was that of Sadeed, an asylum seeker, who went from challenging behaviour to a real champion. It warmed my heart.
And then, of course, it was broken again - Sadeed was deported.
It was these moments of uneasiness that punched me in the pit of the stomach.
Because all the humour and resilience in the world doesn't hide the fact that young adults are being let down.
It's evident in the words of these youngsters, in the stark differences between those at the top and those on the front line, and in the cuts to provision that happen daily.
"The issues that care leavers, and society as a whole, face isn't common knowledge," Campbell asserted.
"I hope the audience can take away a much greater empathy towards what some young people in our society are faced with."
I, for one, did just that.
Originally published in The Journal newspaper on March 13, 2018.